Trump on NAFTA: 'Will I settle for less than I go in with? Yes'

Michigan workers hate NAFTA but love robots
Michigan workers hate NAFTA but love robots

President Trump has lambasted America's free trade deal with Canada and Mexico -- NAFTA -- many times over the past year. He's even threatened to terminate it.

The editors of The Economist asked Trump if all the bluster was just a negotiating tactic.

In an interview, the editors asked: "Some people think this is a negotiating tactic -- that you say very dramatic things but actually you would settle for some very small changes. Is that right?"

Trump's response: "No, it's not really, not a negotiation. It's really not. No, will I settle for less than I go in with? Yes, I mean who wouldn't?"

Settling for less, especially on NAFTA, is hardly what Trump has promised Rust Belt workers, who are pinning their hopes on him to bring back manufacturing jobs with better trade deals.

Related: Fed: Tearing up NAFTA would hurt US companies

Trump has admitted that those promises are a major reason why he is president today.

"I think it's probably one of the primary reasons I'm sitting here today as president," Trump said on April 20.

Trump's comments to The Economist may reflect a reality check: Trade is a two-way street, and negotiations with Mexico and Canada will lead to concessions from the US too. It makes sense that Trump wouldn't get everything he asks for unless he gives some too.

But an acknowledgment that he would settle for less contradicts many of the central tenets of his campaign promises, which was what sent the crowds wild at the rallies and gave hope to millions.

Trump has threatened to tax imports from Mexico or tax companies that move jobs to Mexico (he reiterated that threat this week against Rexnord, which is moving jobs to Mexico from Indiana).

Related: If Trump wants a new NAFTA, here's what he has to do

Trump has been tough on trade in some respects. He pulled out of a deal that was still being negotiated, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, better known as TPP. He recently slapped a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber. He started a 100-day review of US-China trade relations. He also came close to saying he would "terminate" NAFTA, then decided not to after speaking with his counterparts, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But NAFTA was one of Trump's top targets during his campaign. And while he still talks tough and promises a better, fairer deal -- while offering few details -- he now says he's willing to settle for less than what he asks for.

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